If you plan on creating your own landscaping design or borrowing one, you should have at the very minimum a basic understanding of the principles of landscape design.
This does not mean that you have to apply every principle to every single part of the plan. But just having an understanding of the principles will help you come up with some ideas and increase your creativity.
Great landscaping lies in the eyes of the creator. So, while the principles of landscape design are great guidelines to follow, don’t feel like they’re the “have to rules” of landscaping. Abstract and creativity are allowed.
Unity should be one of your main goals in your design. It may be better understood and applied as consistency and repetition. Repetition creates unity by repeating alike elements like plants, plant groups, or decor throughout the landscape. Consistency creates unity in the sense that some or all of the different elements of the landscape fit together to create a whole.
Unity can be achieved by the consistency of character of elements in the design. By character, I mean the height, size, texture, color schemes, etc. of different elements.
An excellent example would be in the use of accent boulders. If you’ve ever seen a landscape design that had one large white round boulder here and another large red square granite boulder there and so on, then you’ve seen that unity wasn’t created by this specific element.
A simple way to create unity in your landscape is by creating themes. And one of the simplest ways to create themes is by using a little garden decor or garden statues. Creating a theme garden is easier when it’s related to something you’re interested in or have a passion for.
Unity should be expressed through at least one element in your landscape and preferably more. Using elements to express a main idea through consistent style and a specific theme is what creates harmony.
Simplicity is actually one of the principles in design and art. It is one of the best guidelines you can follow as a beginner or do it yourselfer. Just keep things simple to begin with.
Simplicity in planting, for instance, would be to pick two or three colors and repeat them throughout the garden or landscape. Keeping decor to a minimum and within a specific theme as well as keeping hardscapes such as boulders consistent is also practicing simplicity.
Balance in design is just as the word implies. There are basically two types of balance in landscape design. These are Symmetrical and Asymmetrical.
Symmetrical balance is where there are more or less equally spaced matching elements of the garden design. With a garden equally divided, both sides could share the same shape, form, plant height, plant groupings, colors, bed shapes, theme, etc.
Asymmetrical balance on the other hand is one of the principles of landscape design that’s a little more complex. While textures, forms, colors, etc. may remain constant to create some unity, shapes and hardscapes may be more random. This form of balance often has separate or different themes with each having an equal but different type of attraction.
This can also create a neat contrast. Flowing lines are pleasing to the eye but the bold contrast of a curve with a straight line may be very interesting.
Asymmetrical balance isn’t necessarily limited to just the shape of your garden.
Contrast and harmony may also be accomplished using plants. Fine foliage verses coarser foliage, round leaves verses spiked leaves as well as color compliments and contrasts.
You’ll hear me talk about “themes” a lot. Many successful do it yourself designs follow a basic theme to achieve most of the principles of landscape design. The proper use of plants and garden decor or a mix of both is an easy way to achieve themes.
Color adds the dimension of real life and interest to the landscape. Bright colors like reds, yellows and oranges seem to advance toward you and can actually make an object seem closer to you. Cool colors like greens, blues, and pastels seem to move away from you and can make an object seem farther from you.
Grays, blacks, and whites are considered neutral colors and are best used in the background with bright colors in the foreground. However, to increase depth in a landscape, you can use dark and coarse textured plants in the foreground and use fine textured and light colored plants in the background.
Natural transition can be applied to avoid radical or abrupt changes in your landscape design. Transition is basically gradual change. It can best be illustrated in terms of plant height or color but can also be applied to all elements in the landscape including but not limited to textures, foliage shape or size, and the size and shape of different elements.
In other words transition can be achieved by the gradual, ascending or descending, arrangement of different elements with varying textures, forms, colors, or sizes.
Transition is one of the principles of landscape design that can be used to “create illusions” in the landscape. For example a transition from taller to shorter plants can give a sense of depth and distance (like in a painting), making the garden seem larger than it really is. A transition from shorter to taller plants could be used to frame a focal point to make it stand out and seem closer than it really is.
Line is of the more structural principles of landscape design. It can mostly be related to the way beds, walkways, and entryways move and flow.
Straight lines are forceful and direct while curvy lines have a more natural, gentle, flowing effect.
Proportion simply refers to the size of elements in relation to each other. Of all the principles of landscape design, this one is quite obvious but still requires a little thought and planning. Most of the elements in landscape design can be intentionally planned to meet the proper proportions.
Proportion is relative and elements can be scaled to fit by creating different rooms in the garden. The goal is to create a pleasing relationship among the three dimensions of length, breadth, and depth or height.
A small water feature can be proportionate if placed in a corner or on the edge of a large area and becomes a focal point of the larger area while creating its own distinct atmosphere. An entire room, sitting area, or theme can be created around it. Other rooms and themes can be created as well. See small gardens for ideas on creating rooms and creating illusions.
Also, special consideration and study should be given to proper plant selection to avoid using plants that are out of proportion.
Repetition is directly related to unity. It’s good to have a variety of elements and forms in the garden but repeating these elements gives variety expression.
Unity is achieved by repeating objects or elements that are alike. Too many unrelated objects make the garden look cluttered and unplanned.
There’s a fine line here. It’s possible that too much of one element can make a garden or landscape feel uninteresting, boring and monotonous.
However, unity may still be created by using different elements repeatedly. This in turn keeps the garden interesting.